U.C. Berkeley senate upholds veto of divest-from-Israel measure, San Diego debates similar bill

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The divest-from-Israel saga at U.C. Berkeley seems to take a new twist and turn every week — and now the drama is even spreading, as U.C. San Diego has introduced and voted on similar legislation.

In Berkeley, the veto of the controversial resolution was upheld in the early hours of April 29, as proponents fell one vote shy of the 14 needed to overturn it.

Thirteen senators voted to override the veto, executed last month by ASUC President Will Smelko. Five voted to sustain the veto and one senator abstained. One senator was not present for the vote.

Keri Copans

The vote at about 4 a.m. followed a meeting that began in the evening of April 28 attended by about 500 people.

A vote April 15 also failed to overturn Smelko’s veto of the resolution, which was adopted 16-4 last month. However, following several procedural votes, the motion to revisit the resolution was tabled, making the resolution available again for reconsideration.

Last week, the Associated Students of University of California senators were offering up a new plan: to write and submit a new resolution that could win a veto-proof majority.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

The senators tried to place a new (and not yet written) resolution on the agenda, hoping to hustle it into committee this week, but after much verbal sparring, no agreement was reached and the resolution was not added.

Meanwhile, some 500 miles away, pro-Israel groups at U.C. San Diego were mobilizing to defeat a similar divestment resolution brought before the Associated Students of University of California, San Diego, council on April 28.

The council ultimately voted 13-10-4 in favor of forming a committee to further discuss the resolution, according to the Guardian, U.C. San Diego’s campus newspaper.

That resolution, which was drafted by members of Students for Justice in Palestine, the Student Sustainability Collective and other organizations, is slightly different from the one brought before the U.C. Berkeley student senate.

While both take aim at two U.S. companies, General Electric and United Technologies, that provide materials to aid alleged war crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza, the measure at U.C San Diego doesn’t explicitly use the word “Israel.”

Instead, Israel is referred to in the resolution as the “occupying force” that “has engaged in collective punishment of the Palestinian population, in the view of the human rights community.”

“In some ways, it’s scarier,” said Keri Copans, acting director for Hillel of San Diego and a U.C. San Diego alumna. “The Berkeley resolution condemns the violence of Israel and Israelis outright. This one is about delegitimizing Israel.”

What the two resolutions also have in common is their ability to galvanize opponents. 

According to Copans, Tritons for Israel, the pro-Israel student organization on campus, immediately created a “strong plan” to defeat the resolution by scheduling one-on-one meetings with student council members, sending talking points to interested students and aligning Israel supporters on campus.

“I feel like a proud parent,” said Copans, now in her ninth year of working for Hillel. “It’s getting more extreme, which is hard. But our students know how to handle it. Older students are teaching the younger ones.”

In addition, a student-circulated petition called on Associated Students of U.C. San Diego council members to uphold their mission, which states, “We will represent a diverse but unified voice, provide support for those within our community, and focus on the issues that directly affect the people with whom we have the responsibility to serve.”

“It’s not A.S. responsibility to decide on this issue,” Copans said, referring to the resolution. “They should be dealing with student matters. The senators need to realize that they represent the students, and this is alienating Jewish students and making them uncomfortable.”

This isn’t the first time a resolution urging divestiture from Israel has come before the U.C. San Diego student council.

In January 2009, student senators discussed for approximately four weeks a divest-from-Israel resolution condemning Israel for the Gaza war. That measure eventually fizzled, Copans said.

“These [resolutions] do not add value,” Copans said. “Yes, our students are learning to be pro-Israel advocates, but when you polarize the campus, it’s horrible. That’s not a something we want to foster, but that’s what’s happening.”

In a related development, U.C. Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin recently spoke with Jewish students at U.C. Berkeley for an article she co-authored with UCLA professor emeritus Leila Beckwith titled “Are Jewish Students Safe on California Campuses?”  The article appears on AmericanThinker.com.

“They talk about how awful it is to be a Jewish student,” Rossman-Benjamin said, “and the way in which divestment campaigns make the campus climate hostile and toxic.”

Rossman-Benjamin said she doesn’t envision U.C. Santa Cruz being among the first wave of U.C. campuses to introduce divest-from-Israel resolutions like the ones at Berkeley and San Diego, but “it won’t be long,” she added.

 “If we think it’s hard for Jewish students now,” she said, “it will be impossible.”